Women are well-represented on Nordic company boards in the period covered by this 2022 Board Index (1 June 2021-31 May 2022). Gains towards gender parity are being made across the countries in the region.
Norway is the only country among the four under review that has a specific gender quota. The Norwegian Public Limited Liability Companies Act of 1997 stipulates that the board must represent both genders as follows:
(i) if the board has two or three members, both genders must be represented; (ii) if the board has four or five members, each gender must be represented by at least two; (iii) if the board has from six to eight members, each gender must be represented by at least three; (iv) if the board has nine members, each gender must be represented by at least four; and (v) if the board has more than nine members, each gender must be represented by at least 40%.
At the time of our research, 39% of all board members across the region were women, a slight increase from 37% in 2020 and 38% in 2021. This year, 45 boards have a 40% or higher share of women among all board members across the region.
Nordic countries have made great progress regarding levels of female board representation. In Denmark, this progress can be seen most clearly — women’s share of board seats rose from 28% in 2017 to 37% this year (2021, 36%), marking a solid 32% increase in the past five years.
Consistent with previous years, Norwegian boards have the highest proportion of female board members on their boards at 45% (2021, 45%). Norwegian boards have held steady, with women occupying 45% of board seats in both 2017 and 2022.
Sweden has the second-highest female representation with 39% (unchanged from 2021). The proportion has remained relatively stable, with only one or two percentage point differences in the past five years.
In Finland, women represent 36% (2021, 35%) of board directors. Representation rose in the past five years (2017, 33%).
There are five foreign companies in the OBX. They are not subject to the gender quota and subsequently are excluded from this section’s calculations. Overall, however, these five companies have far lower levels of female representation than those seen on other Norwegian boards. Three of the five had no women board members, one whose board included 14% women, and one that reached 33% female representation.
In the period under review, no foreign companies were represented among the three other national indices surveyed here.
Women in leadership positions
Although women are being represented more fully at board level, it is important to ensure this representation is also distributed evenly across all seniority levels. We note that there are observable differences from country to country when it comes to the numbers of women in leadership positions such as board chairs, deputy chairs and committee chairs.
At the cut-off date, only eight boards were chaired by women. 18% (4) of Norwegian boards have female chairs: Orla Noonan at Adevinta, Olaug Svarva at DNB, Gisele Marchand at Gjensidige Forsikring, and Gunn Wærsted at Telenor.
Denmark has two female chairs: Dominique Reiniche at Chr. Hansen and Deirdre Connelly at Genmab.
Finland and Sweden each record only one female chair: Sari Baldauf at Nokia and Gun Nilsson at Hexagon, respectively.
In terms of their leadership routes, most female chairs (5, 63%) were internal appointments, having served in a different capacity on the boards they now chair.
- Dominique Reiniche was an internal appointment within Chr. Hansen. She started as a non-executive director (NED) in 2013, before being named deputy chair in 2015 and chair in 2018.
- Gisele Marchand joined Gjensidige Forsikring in 2010 as a NED, and was appointed chair in 2018.
- Sari Baldauf joined the board of Nokia in 2018 as a NED, becoming deputy chair the following year and chair in 2020.
- Deirdre Connelly joined Genmab as an NED in 2017, becoming deputy chair in 2018 and was elected as chair in 2020.
- Gun Nilsson was an NED at Hexagon from 2008 until 2017, when she became chair.
- Orla Noonan was elected as chair of Adevinta shortly before the company listed in 2019. Gunn Wærsted was directly elected as chair of Telenor in 2016. Olaug Svarva was directly elected as chair of DNB Bank in 2018.
After our cut-off date, Grace Reksten Skaugen became chair of Orron Energy, having served as a NED there since 2015.
Women in leadership positions
25% of deputy chairs or equivalent are women. The highest proportion of female deputy chairs can be seen in Finland (33%), followed by Denmark (24%). Swedish boards have 22%; Norwegian boards have 20%.
Among committee chairs, we note a significant difference between audit and remuneration chairs. Overall, women represent 45% of audit committee chairs — a marked contrast to the 18% recorded for women chairs of remuneration committees. Among audit chairs, the range runs from 50% (found in Sweden) to 37% (Norway). For female remuneration chairs, levels range from 35% among Norwegian boards to 8% among Danish boards.
We define foreign directors as having a nationality that differs from that of the company. On this basis, foreign directors account for 38% (292) of all board members, slightly up from 2020’s figure of 34% and 2021’s figure of 36%.
Across the region, representation of foreign nationalities is increasingly prominent: all countries in our survey record rising numbers of foreign directors across the past three years.
Denmark has the highest share of foreign directors with 51% non-nationals, on a par with both 2020 (51%) and 2021 (51%). Norway has the next-greatest share, with 42% foreign directors.
As we note in our discussion of new directors in the Board Composition section of this survey, the large number of foreign directors in Norway can partly be attributed to Adevinta and REC Silicon. Both companies have undergone notable changes and their board members have been replaced, for the most part, by non-nationals. Adevinta announced a new board following the completion of the acquisition of eBay Classifieds Group on 25 June 2021, and Hanwha Q Cells became the largest shareholder of REC Silicon in 2022.
Foreign directors make up 39% of Finnish boards. This is very close to levels seen in 2020 (37%) and 2021 (39%).
Sweden has the least diverse boards in terms of foreign representation on average, with 25% foreign directors. In 2020 and 2021, it had 21% and 25% foreign directors respectively.
22 chairs (22%) in the region are foreign, of which 11 are in Denmark. The lowest proportion of foreign chairs is observed in Sweden (only two chairs, or 8%, are foreign).
In terms of non-Nordic foreign directors, the majority (67%) are from Europe, followed by North America (26%). In terms of individual nationalities, British nationals account for 22% of non-Nordic foreign board members, closely followed by US nationals (21%). There are no directors from South America.
Non-nordic foreign directors
Background and experience
The most common functional background seen among board members is that of group CEO (47%), followed by backgrounds in general management (30%). Experience at group CFO level is seen in 7% of profiles, followed closely by other C-suite positions collectively, at 6%.
However, looking at female board directors only, the most common functional experience recorded is general management (41%), with group CEO the next most common experience at 30%. CFOs account for 11%, and other C-suite positions collectively make up 7%.
Looking at sector backgrounds, industrial backgrounds are most common, making up 33% of all board profiles, irrespective of gender. Financial services and TMT follow, at 24% and 14%, respectively.
|Education, non-profit, government
This breakdown is in line with the number of companies in each sector within our sample. 50% of companies fall into the industrial sector, and 19% and 12% are categorised as financial services and TMT, respectively.
Breadth of diversity in the boardroom
While boardroom diversity cannot be captured exclusively by quantitative measures, hallmark indicators are useful to highlight those boardrooms where the greatest diversity is evident.
In addition to previous functional and sector experience, female and foreign representation on the board are important indicators of diversity. Younger directors may also add a different perspective to boardroom discussions.